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PANUPS Alert: Clean Water for Bhopal
Last week, Bhopal residents were beaten and jailed in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh as they protested the government’s failure to provide adequate supplies of clean drinking water. Twenty years after the disastrous leak of toxic gas in Bhopal that was by far the worst chemical accident on record, many residents are forced to drink water contaminated by the now defunct Union Carbide pesticide plant. Contact the Indian government and urge them to provide residents with clean drinking water and drop charges against the activists.
On May 17, 2005, a group of 300 Bhopal survivors, largely led by women, entered the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation offices chanting slogans and beating steel plates. According to Amnesty International, the police appeared about an hour later in full riot gear, reported that no officials were available to meet with the group, and began to forcibly remove protestors. Activists were pushed down stairs, and some women were kicked in the chest and stomach and beaten with nightsticks. Twenty people were injured, including five who were taken to hospital. Seven activists were arrested and held briefly, including Goldman Prize recipient Rashida Bee.
In 2004, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Madhya Pradesh government to provide residents in 14 Bhopal communities with adequate supplies of clean drinking water. But activists report that the government has been providing only 14% of the amount needed, and some communities have received none. Toxic chemicals left behind after the 1984 disaster continue to leach into groundwater, adding more victims to the disaster that has now claimed 20,000 lives and sickened 150,000.
Ground water testing done in 2001-2 reported elevated levels of mercury in wells used for drinking water, with higher levels recorded after the summer monsoon season in dispersal patterns that point to the defunct facility. A Greenpeace study and also reported wells contaminated with chlorobenzens and naphthalene in addition to mercury in 2002, and identified more than 100 tons of pesticides still at the site.
When the plant was abandoned, liquid chemical waste was left in evaporation ponds lined with polyethylene (plastic). An Amnesty International report in November 2004 cites internal memos from Union Carbide in the 1970s warning that the ponds posed a “danger of polluting subsurface water supplies in the Bhopal area.” Twelve years ago the ponds were determined not to be leaking, but in December of 2004, only one pond remained, and “in many places,” reported Chemical and Engineering News, “the polyethylene liner protruded from the ground.”
In a 1989 settlement five years after the disaster, Union Carbide paid the Indian government US $470 million for compensation and medical care, reduced from the Indian government’s initial request of US $3 billion. Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide in 2001 for US $11.6 billion and has publicly stated that it has no responsibility for cleanup. This position is contrary to the “polluter pays” principle under both Indian and U.S. law.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., shareholders continue to criticize Dow for downplaying its liabilities for Union Carbide in Bhopal. At the May 12, 2005 annual meeting, a letter from shareholders argued that recent U.S. investor protection legislation required Dow to “fairly present” the company’s financial condition, and that “this requires better discussion of the issues surrounding Bhopal.”
Take Action: Visit http://ga4.org/campaign/_bhopalwater to send a Fax to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, asking him to implement the law for clean drinking water and withdraw the false charges against the nonviolent activists.
For more information: see the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal at: http://www.bhopal.net/.
Sources: Chemical & Engineering News, Jan 24, 2005, Vol 83, No 4; Cost of Clean up Rs 250,000,000, March 32, 2005, Hindi Newspaper on Bhopal.net; Chemical Stockpiles at Union Carbide India Limited in Bhopal; an investigation, Greenpeace International, November 2002, http://www.greenpeace.org/international; Clouds of Injustice, Bhopal Disaster 20 Years On, Amnesty International, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA200152004?open&of=ENG-IND.
Contact: ICJB, http://www.bhopal.net/, PANNA.
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